Collision of Constitutional Rights

In June, Terry O’Neill was elected president of the National Organization for Women at its annual conference. A discussion about conscience clauses then took center stage. The subject came up in the context of health care workers who refuse to provide contraceptive information or services based on moral or religious grounds.

O’Neill said, "Conscience clauses, where pharmacists refuse birth control sales because it’s against their conscience, must go. Guess what? Women have a constitutional right to birth control," adding, "There is no constitutional right to be a pharmacist" (Jacobs, Indianapolis Star , 6/21).

Perhaps O’Neill’s invective sounds a bit ridiculous to you. Upon closer scrutiny, the statement appears to reflect the overriding attitude of not only NOW’s current president, but perhaps entities as far-reaching as the White House itself. It is quite possible that what was once perceived to be protected by the Constitution of this nation may not be what is actually recognized by the current political power structure.

A situation in North Carolina, which involves a constitutional right to religious freedom, provokes my opinion on this critical matter.

The news reports are quite clear on exactly what happened at Belmont Abbey , a Catholic college in North Carolina. The college has been warned by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that if the administration doesn’t stop discriminating against female employees by denying contraceptive benefits in the college’s health coverage plan, the EEOC will take them to court!

“Contraception, abortion and voluntary sterilization came off Belmont Abbey College’s faculty health care policy in December 2007 after a faculty member discovered that coverage, according to an e-mail Belmont Abbey College President Bill Thierfelder sent to school staff, students, alumni and friends of the college,” the Gaston Gazette reported.

In a subsequent exclusive interview with Thierfelder, reported that “officials at the Charlotte division of the EEOC told him that a decision to close a discrimination complaint against the school for failing to offer contraception coverage was reversed after the matter went to the nation’s capital.”

Sound like a strong-arm tactic? Well, read on!

"From a religious freedom standpoint, you don’t have religious freedom," he said. Thierfelder stressed, however, that the college has "gotten a lot of support from people who are not Catholic, and who may not share our beliefs on abortion, sterilization, contraception…they see the principle and what they’re saying is, ‘Belmont Abbey College is not trying to tell anybody what they have to do, it’s just saying what Belmont Abbey College will do.’ And I think that’s an important distinction."

"To try to make us change [our beliefs], there’s something very wrong with that," he continued. "And I think that’s why this has garnered so much attention, and especially with the health care debates that are going on right now, and with all the things that are going on with Catholic hospitals … what they are basically saying is, if you’re Catholic, or if you are of any faith, it doesn’t mean anything. You’re going to do what the government tells you to do."

Thierfelder acknowledged that the fight could go to the courts, and emphasized that BAC officials were united in maintaining fidelity to Catholic Church teaching against pressure from the government.

"All of us need to have moral courage in today’s world," he said. "We are so resolute in our commitment to the teachings of the Catholic Church that there is no possible way we would ever deviate from it, and if it came down to it … we would close the school rather than give in.

"So it is absolutely, unequivocally impossible for us to go against the teachings of the Catholic Church in any way. There is no form of compromise that is possible."

American Life League applauds BAC’s courageous defense of Catholic moral teaching and proper Catholic medical ethics. We also understand what is at stake if the Obama administration presses forward with this overt act of intimidation.

It is obvious to us, when one considers O’Neill’s version of the Constitution versus that of Catholic and other Christian pharmacists, health care workers and BAC officials, that something is incredibly askew. While it may be that the Constitution of the United States has a very large number of interpretations depending on whose ox is being gored, the Constitution is not an elastic document.

Obama has said he will respect health care workers’ rights of conscience. But look at what is happening at BAC under his administration!Obama has also said that his health care reform proposals would not force anyone into a particular situation. But look at what is being attempted here.

NOW’s O’Neill may, in a very perverted sense, have hit the nail on the head, even though a careful reading of the Constitution would deny that this is so.

For those who need a refresher course, the First Amendment of the Constitution reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Taken at face value, this amendment should protect not only the policies in force at BAC with regard to the removal of contraceptive coverage from the employee health insurance policy, but it should also protect the rights of those who are opposed to government policies that violate their religious beliefs or otherwise impose untenable requirements on their right of conscience.

As law professor Lynn D. Wardle pointed out in congressional testimony a few years ago, “Protection for rights of conscience underlie[s] and historically preceded the First Amendment. In June, 1776, even before the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Declaration of Rights provided, inter alia , that ‘all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience.’"

By the same token, there is no place in the Constitution where one can legitimately find a right to contraception or to aborting a child. As constitutional expert Mark Levin has written,

In order to strike down the Connecticut law prohibiting the sale of contraceptives, Douglas wrote that “specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance.”

Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know what emanations from penumbras are. Young lawyers across America had to pull out their dictionaries when reading Griswold for the first time. A penumbra is an astronomical term describing the partial shadow in an eclipse or the edge of a sunspot — and it is another way to describe something unclear or uncertain. “Emanation” is a scientific term for gas made from radioactive decay — it also means “an emission.”

Douglas’s decision not only found a right to privacy in a penumbra of an emanation, it manipulated the facts of the case: Estelle Griswold, the executive director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, and Dr. C. Lee Buxton, the group’s medical director, gave information and prescribed birth control to a married couple. Griswold and Buxton, not the married couple, were later convicted and fined $100 each. The relationship at issue, then, was doctor-patient, not husband-wife. Yet Douglas framed his opinion around a presumed right to marital privacy. He expounded at length about the sanctity of marriage but used vague phrasing to describe the rights at issue, never explicitly stating that married couples have a right to use contraceptives. He even raised the ugly specter of sex police, though no police had intruded into anyone’s bedroom. “Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives?” This little phrase has been used as holy writ by judicial activists ever since to further expand the right to privacy in a variety of areas, including abortion and sodomy…

The Constitution does, in clear and undeniably concise language, protect freedoms that you and I and millions of Americans hold dear and, until recently, took for granted. No longer!

This is indeed a grave situation. Clearly, the politics of constitutional rights have turned the founding document of this republic on its ear. What was once wrong is now a right, and what was always legitimately part of our national heritage is now under siege.

Such contradiction forces me to make but one assumption: If you don’t play ball with the Obama administration, there could be a price to pay, especially if you are a Catholic entity with every desire to serve Christ and His Church first and foremost.

Please write or call Belmont Abbey College President Bill Thierfelder and express your support for his courageous position:

William Thierfelder, President
Belmont Abbey College
100 Belmont-Mt. Holly Rd
Belmont, NC 28012
Call toll-free: (888) 222-0110

Please write or call the EEOC and express your concern over the bully tactics being used to intimidate BAC:

Stuart Ishimaru,
Chairman, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
131 M Street, NE
Washington, DC 20507
Phone: (202) 663-4900
TTY: (202) 663-4494

Please spread the word: As Americans, let us strive to protect our constitutional rights and expose the strong-arming by some in government today.

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